WILBERFORCE — Wilberforce University President Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard used inspiration for a project at WU.
In 2019, philanthropist Robert F. Smith paid $34 million to settle the loan debt for nearly 400 graduating students at Pinkard’s alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta. Pinkard tapped into that experience for an unexpected announcement at last Saturday’s WU commencement.
At the ceremony, Pinkard told 2020 and 2021 graduates that all fines and other debt owed to WU were canceled. That means fines, fees, or outstanding tuition balances would be cleared.
“We received some funding,” Pinkard said. “An organization approached us and wanted to support the project.”
The total amount of debt forgiveness will exceed $375,000, according to a release from the school. It will not include federal and/or personal bank loans.
“Students borrow from various sources to pay Wilberforce,” Pinkard said. “We can say that the money you owe us you do not have to worry about. We do not have authority to say that you do not owe other outside sources. We can tell students that they no longer owe us.”
Pinkard said that the project communicates to the public that Wilberforce is a student-centered institution, and the institution cares about its students. Wilberforce’s employees wants graduates to start the future in a better financial position.
In a personal sense, the debt forgiveness project means a lot to Pinkard.
“It was great to make the announcement,” he said. “The students’ response was great to see. It was a great feeling to see the excitement they felt.”
Pinkard said the university is “expecting students to contact us” regarding implementation of the forgiveness.
It is unclear if it will be a one-time cancellation or an annual occurrence.
“I don’t want to overpromise on that and underdeliver,” Pinkard said. “We have to take it year-by-year.”
Funding to support the project will come from various scholarships such as the United Negro College Fund, Inc., Jack and Jill, Inc., and other institutional funding to help students with higher education finances. During spring 2020, when the initial COVID-19 pandemic outbreak started, all Wilberforce students were relieved of financial pressure through the use of the Higher Education Emergency Relied Fund (HEERF). HEERF was set up through the CARES Act, and it provided colleges and universities emergency financial aid.
Reach Darryl McGee at 937-502-4534